As we learn the details of the horrifying shootings at a Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, several pro-Israel commentators and tweeters have tried to link the shooting to rising support for a boycott of Israel and the BDS movement. Max Blumenthal created a storify which details the ugly stuff here. The offensive remarks by zealous Israel supporters reveal their shameless opportunism and poor taste, considering the gravity of the circumstances. When our community is faced with a genuinely frightening event, the Israel-on-the-brain crowd continues to insist that BDS is the real enemy. Seriously.
So, let me break it down for those who might be confusing things. The shooter is an antisemite. He is a real antisemite, not a human rights group or Nobel prize winner painted to look like an antisemite through use of tortured logic and redefinitions. This is someone who actually despises us and seeks to kill us because we are Jews.
This shooter clearly has no relationship whatsoever to BDS. Perhaps to the chagrin of Israel’s most ardent supporters, racist groups are explicitly unwelcome in that movement and have no place in its ranks. Let’s take a look at some obvious distinctions: The BDS movement invokes the language of human rights and equal protection. It looks to international law and historic anti-colonial, anti-racist struggles to support and inspire its position. It has support and participation from Muslims, Christians, Jews, secular people, labor unions, student groups, artists, academics and others who don’t wish to invest in the violence of occupation. By contrast, Kansas shooter Frazier Glenn Miller is a former KKK member who invokes the language of white nationalism, which is antithetical to human rights and equal protection. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, he organized the ‘White Patriot Party’ in the 1980s and eventually ran for Congress twice in 2006 and 2010. He has raged publicly about the threat Jewish/Christian intermarriage posed to the white European demographic; he has denigrated Jewish religion by claiming that Jews killed Christ; he has claimed that Jews control media, government and international institutions; and he has posited that Jews are lying about their suffering during the Holocaust to make white Europeans look bad, and that the Holocaust is a hoax. In other words, far from an advocate for equality and human rights, Miller instead asserts that the United States should belong only to white European people. I don’t hear arguments like his coming from supporters of BDS. Although, I will admit they bear an uncanny resemblance to some arguments we hear in other circles of the debate, albeit in a slightly more polished and palatable form.
The BDS movement was initiated in 2005 by 180+ Palestinian civil society organizations. These organizations wrote to the world and called upon it for help as peace negotiations led them nowhere and Israel further entrenched its occupation. They decided to use a peaceful tactic, the boycott, to pressure Israel and to make the occupation harder and more consequential to maintain. This tactic has been used by social movements across the political spectrum historically as a means to effect social change. Boycott has also been affirmed as a protected form of free expression by the United States Supreme Court. Although Israel fanatics make wild accusations of antisemitism, the movement can claim a healthy amount of support from Jews in diaspora as well as Israel, including groups such as: Boycott from Within, The Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace, Jewish Voice for Peace, American Jews for a Just Peace, Independent Jewish Voices and a number of Jewish identified groups in Europe.
Meanwhile, Israel fanatics like Pamela Geller raise money for openly racist groups like the English Defense League. Daniel Pipes defends Geert Wilders, who has made common cause with the French far right to form an anti-immigrant ‘trojan horse’ in the European Parliament. David Horowitz publicizes the writing of Jared Taylor, an open white nationalist, who advocates the idea that blacks have a higher propensity to commit violent crime. These groups hold viewpoints that decent people committed to democratic values should find abhorrent, yet Geller, Pipes, and Horowitz do not find themselves subject to accusations of bigotry from Israel’s ardent supporters. In most cases, they are still welcome inside the tent.
During a truly terrifying time for our Jewish community, the Israel zealots give real antisemites a free pass in favor of targeting advocates for Palestinian rights. The only plausible reason for this, in my opinion, is that the BDS movement has made tremendous strides around the world, finding allies in renowned artists, writers, scholars, and human rights leaders. The connections this activism has forged between people of all faiths and backgrounds directly contradicts their extreme, hardline Zionist viewpoint, which relies on a hostile, incurably antisemitic world for its relevancy.
I believe that Jews have the capacity to discern those who endanger us from those who do not. I only pray that we can cut through the fog and mirrors of an opportunistic political agenda that cedes vital ground to the white nationalists who truly imperil us and our natural allies.